One Piece Vol. 1 (4Kids Edit)
Editing is always controversial when it comes to anime. Although some edits are appropriate and even necessary for Western releases on rare occasions, I've supported efforts like the late Anime Prime, which until a few years ago tracked edits to anime and campaigned for uncut versions to be available to those of us on this side of the Pacific. But what do you do with shows that are obviously intended for young children? Some things just won't fly with American television censors that will pass muster for kids in Japan. When it comes to a Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh, should anybody over the age of thirteen even really care? The answer is complex, since knowing what shows are for what target age groups can be difficult to determine, but there are times when I'd say yes and times when I'd say no.
Into this controversy comes One Piece, a highly popular and long-running series in Japan that is being released in the US by 4Kids in only its dubbed, edited form. Fans of the original are, of course, outraged at the treatment it has received. Some websites are unwilling to review it. I received a free (and unexpected) copy of the first disc when I was sent a screener of Hikaru no Go a few weeks back, and I decided to run headlong into the fray by simply seeing what the fuss was about. Unfortunately, One Piece is not a show worth fighting over, in my opinion. A bright and silly thing that clearly caters to the youngest of adolescent instincts, it lost my interest before the first episode even closed. It is, in fact, dull enough to make me wonder whether or not the purists have latched onto this series simply to be argumentative (though, sadly, that's likely not the case).
Luffy is a boldly cheerful soul who has decided to become the king of all pirates on the high seas. But he's not an average young teenager...after eating a rare fruit on his early travels, he's developed the ability to turn into Elastic Man! In a scrape, it can make for a handy ability to have. As the show begins, he's found in a barrel floating along in the ocean by a pirate crew. (He can't actually swim, funny enough for a wannabe pirate king!) As the first three episodes unfold, Luffy helps a young swabbie get away from his pirate captors and join the real navy, and he starts picking up members of his crew, including the swashbuckler Zolo who has to be rescued from execution for protecting a young girl from the thugs who run a seaport. As Luffy's ultimate goal is to steal a legendary treasure hidden somewhere in the dangerous Grand Line, he's going to need all the help he can get.
From the very start of the One Piece edit, we see a whole lot of obvious changes from elements that would have appeared in the Japanese version. For one, the opening song is a rap number explaining (in English) the basic plot of the show, apparently so kids who have missed the opening episodes can get the concept. However, it's clear that, even in these relatively untouched episodes, there are lots of changes. There's no blood, no smoking, and no drinking (though bottles of wine are readily apparent, people are said to be drinking a lot of juice). The concept of danger and death is here, but it's clearly backgrounded. It's hard to tell what of the music is from the original Japanese production and what is not, so I can't speak to that. The dub itself is reasonably written to appeal to kids, and though it's annoying to my ears, the acting isn't really that terrible (though it may be leagues away from what was originally intended). But what's striking is that the animation itself, which really isn't changed, is very cartoonish. Having seen a lot of anime in my time, I can state without hesitation from the animation alone that this is an adventure series for young boys. Adults may want to watch it, but I'm convinced this was always a show meant for little pirates among us.
And frankly, they are the only ones I see appreciating this show. I admit that musical scores and dialogue can change the pacing of a program, but these three episodes moves as slow as molasses in January. The very fact that only three episodes of a show lasting well over 200 episodes were put on the first DVD is a bad sign in and of itself. (For those interested, it appears that after the first two discs, the DVDs will expand to five episodes each.) But honestly, there wasn't a thing that moved me about anything in what I saw. I wasn't quite bored to tears, but it was darn close. Luffy is so annoying that I'd just as soon have him get killed off quickly and move on, but I know that won't happen. The villains are, at this point, all caricatures that are simply stupid. The side characters spout inane platitudes; the bad guys make threats but make rocks looks smart. What's more, I found myself strangely disinterested in the whole thing very quickly. I haven't seen a show quite this insipid in a long time.
From what I saw, I'll probably not try anything else within the One Piece canon. Does that mean I wouldn't recommend it in its unedited form to my loyal readers? To be honest, this is a toss-up. A long-time fan of the film Windaria, I still maintain that the unedited sub version of the movie is an absolute classic; however, those who've seen the mangled dub that rewrote the story and chopped out a sixth of the film's footage hate it, typically. Although I can't imagine it at this point, there is possibly merit to the claims that One Piece in its original form is much better. Certainly, the fansubs are still flowing freely throughout the ether that is the Internet, so folks can grab a few episodes and make up their own minds. The question that exists is this: with as slow as the edited version moves, with over 200 episodes, can the original version possibly move any faster? I believe it could; bad editing can make 18 minutes feel like far more than 25 minutes.
But dubs, subs, and edits aside, I can make one thing quite clear: the 4Kids version of One Piece that's currently on the market (circa 2006) is to be avoided. It's painful to listen to, painful to watch, and painfully boring except for the youngest among us. If a loved one under 10 thinks the show is great, then it might still make a decent gift, I guess, but don't pick it up for yourself expecting anything remotely fun or entertaining.
One Piece Vol. 1 (4Kids Edit) -- mild violence -- D